Lightning Sketches (1907)

Article 4818 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-10-2015
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton
Featuring J. Stuart Blackton
Country: USA
What it is: Trick short with animation

An artist draws lightning-fast sketches of people and things.

Most of this short is just what it sounds like; it’s an artist making sketches in fast motion. This in itself makes it sound thin in the fantastic content department, but there are a few touches here and there. Occasionally, some of the sketches come to life through the use of animation, and the sheets of paper will sometimes crumple themselves up without noticeable human intervention. It’s a fun if non-exceptional short, but it does strike one sour note for today’s audiences. The copy I saw was on YouTube, and the fact that it starts without a title and with the artist already partway through his first sketch made me wonder if the print was incomplete. After reading the full plot description on IMDB, I now believe the short has been censored; the first two sketches involve the artist transforming a word into a face (the second sketch involves changing “Cohen” into a Jewish caricature), and the first face (of a black caricature) is drawn from a racial epithet which is considered offensive nowadays. I won’t say what the word is, but if he had drawn a four-legged animal that looks like it was wearing a mask, it wouldn’t have been.

Liebe muss Verstanden Sein (1933)

aka Love Has Its Reasons
Article 4787 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-21-2015
Directed by Hans Steinhoff
Featuring Rosi Barsony, Max Gulstorff, Kathe Haack
Country: Germany
What it is: Comedy

When a flighty stenotypist is tasked by her boss to put some money in the bank so he can invest it in an inventor, she flubs the job and loses some of the money. She tries to hunt down her boss, but he has gone out of town. She goes to the hotel where he will be staying in the hopes of catching him, but gets caught up in a series of comic mishaps.

My copy of this German comedy does not come with English dubbing or subtitles, but I did find a couple of plot descriptions to help me along. However, the plot is quite involved, and even though some of the humor is visual, much of it is verbal, and being in a foreign language, much of it escaped me. As a result, I can’t give a definite evaluation of this one. However, I can make a few observations. The presentation seems energetic and fast-paced; if the jokes are decent, this one could be a lot of fun. Also, Rosi Barsony is a lively and vivacious presence, and she’s quite fun to watch. As you may guess, the fantastic content is tied to the inventor; he’s created a robot/automaton/mechanical doll. I am a little disappointed that the plot ends up involving what was by now a pretty old trick; the woman ends up having to take the place of the doll. However, Barsony’s dancing as the doll is wonderful, and the scene where she performs is the definite visual highlight of the movie. It’s always nice when I can find things to enjoy in movies that I can’t otherwise fully appreciate.

The Love of Zero (1927)

Article 4742 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-24-2015
Directed by Robert Florey
Featuring Joseph Marievsky, Tamara Shavrova, Anielka Elter
Country: USA
What it is: Impressionistic short

Zero romances and wins the heart of Beatrix with his trombone playing. However, she is eventually forced to leave him forever, and he must deal with heartbreak and a descent into madness.

If you can imagine a short, partially comic cross between THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and DAUGHTER OF HORROR, you might get an idea of what this experimental collaboration between Robert Florey and William Cameron Menzies is like. The opening crawl claims that the movie was made for only two hundred dollars, and I will say that the movie looks more expensive than that; in fact, this short has more edits than some full-length movies I’ve seen. The scenery is abstract in the extreme, camera tricks abound (including split-screen and multiple exposure) and the feel ranges from coyish whimsicality to the darkly surreal. The movie is delightfully strange and quite enjoyable, both funny and sad. It almost makes you wonder what you could do with two hundred dollars (or whatever its current equivalent would be).

Les locataires d’a-cote (1909)

aka Next Door Neighbors
Article 4741 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-22-2015
Directed by Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Enjoyable cross of animation and live action

Two couples live next door to each other in an apartment building. When one couple decides to spy on the other by drilling a hole through the wall separating them, the other couple perplexes them by turning into various animated characters.

This short manages to be not only an early example of split-screen technique, but also an early example of mixing live action with animation. It’s a pretty clever idea, and it gives an amusing context to Cohl’s stream-of-consciousness animation technique in that not only are we watching the animation, but we’re watching others watch the animation as well. There’s even some interaction between the two rooms, as the animations do things such as hook up a hose to the drilled hole and shower the residents in the other apartment. I always find Cohl fun to watch, but this one is particularly amusing.

Lure of the Range (1927)

aka Speeding Hoofs
Article 4713 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-20-2014
Directed by Louis Chaudet
Featuring Dick Hatton, Elsa Benham, Ray Turner
Country: USA
What it is: Weird Western

A heir of a ranch returns to the west. He is there to find a hidden treasure, but is told that the house on the ranch is haunted. Villains are also after the treasure.

I will give this silent foray into the realm of the weird western credit for pulling off one thing; it does give us a real ghost. On the down side, the real ghost (that of the heir’s deceased father) only appears fleetingly, and most of the rest of the running time is filled with a gaggle of fake ghosts and the antics of the obligatory terrified unfunny comic relief black servant. In fact, the movie seems to care hardly at all for its main plot line; after setting up a few expository scenes, the movie putters around with filler and comic relief for most of its running time, and only bothers to get back to its story during the last ten minutes of the movie. I wish I could say that it was an enjoyable experience, but you can only squeeze so much humor out of people running in fear from fake ghosts, and the udders are long dry by the time this movie gives up that shtick.

Liquid Sky (1982)

Article 4626 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-9-2014
Directed by Slava Tsukerman
Featuring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre independent film

A small flying saucer lands on top of a skyscraper in New York, and infects a female model who is active in the underground post-punk scene. The aliens feed off the orgasms of her sexual partners, who then die.

This movie was put together by a small core group of Russian film-makers in America with a predominantly American cast and crew. It was apparently a sensation in the independent film scene at the time, and it garnered lots of rave reviews as well. I can see why it was a sensation; there was definitely something audacious in its style, it gives what appears to be an authentic glimpse of the underground post-punk scene in New York at the time, and it’s not like anything else I’ve seen. However, the movie has its share of naysayers as well, and the user comments on IMDB give me the impression that quite a few people find this to be one of the worst movies ever made. I can see this as well. For one thing, the musical soundtrack (which mostly consists of arty, pulsing and droning synthesizer music) damn near drove me over the edge, and the music is inescapable during the first twenty minutes of the movie. Furthermore, I find it very hard to get into the lives of people who seem to be defining themselves through drugs, affected decadence, self-conscious overuse of bizarre facial makeup, and hair styles that make me think of mutant peacocks. As a consequence, I was prepared to hate this movie as well, but ultimately I was able to see through this vast array of artifice and see some of the sadness of the human condition showing through. In the end, I can’t say I really liked the film all that much, but I was able to see its appeal and at least gained a respect for it. It’s also one of those movies where the decadence is essential for the story at hand.

Lady, Stay Dead (1981)

Article 4600 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-6-2014
Directed by Terry Bourke
Featuring Chard Hayward, Louise Howitt, Deborah Coulls
Country: Australia
What it is: Psycho killer movie

A gardener is sexually obsessed with a movie star for whom he works. When he manages to find her alone, he rapes and murders her. When the star’s sister shows up unexpectedly, he must kill her to cover up his crime.

Those who are drawn to this movie for its sleaze factor will probably prefer the first half of the movie, which is where the rape scene and all the nudity can be found. Those who are more interested in the horror/thriller aspects of the movie will probably prefer the final half of the movie, where the gardener lays siege to the sister. However, those hoping for a credible, believable movie will come up short-handed. One problem I have is that the gardener never becomes a consistent character; he seems confidently in control at certain times, comes across as mentally deficient at others, and essentially bends to the winds of whatever is convenient for the story, whether it’s right for the character or not. I also wonder why the police (who let us know that they know about the gardener and imply that he’s responsible for other crimes) were letting this guy run wild in the first place. I also get quite annoyed at the stupidity of the sister, who responds to the siege of the gardener by screaming, blubbering, and doing practically everything she can to make sure the gardener knows just where she is at any given moment. I’ve probably said this before, but I always find it a lot scarier when someone who is doing their level best to deal with an attacker nevertheless remains in danger than I do when someone just makes themselves a sitting duck.

Lifeforce (1985)

Article 4577 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-12-2014
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Featuring Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Apocalyptic science fiction/horror

An outer space probe investigating Halley’s Comet brings to Earth several human-looking figures in suspended animation they found aboard a huge ship they discovered in space. However, the figures turn out to vampire-like creatures with a goal of draining the life from the planet.

Part vampire movie, part zombie movie, part science fiction thriller with touches of ALIEN (Dan O’Bannon was one of the screenwriters), and (most interestingly) part Quatermass-style epic, one can’t help but admire at the very least the sheer ambition of the movie. I will say this much; the movie was interesting enough to hold my attention to the end. I’m just not sure I can say I was quite satisfied with it. It’s quite uneven at times, especially during the awkward and clumsy opening ten minutes of the movie. It gets better after that, but it never quite draws me in completely. Part of the problem is that the movie seems to be trying too hard to be big; there’s something about the rousing score, the occasional descents into histrionics, and the special-effects-laden climax that really had me wishing the movie had tried for a quieter form of suspense rather than loud spectacle. Ultimately, as interesting as it was in some ways, I found it hard to feel any real emotion about it at all. As such, I doubt that the movie will have any real lasting impact on me, and I’ll probably see it more as an interesting failure than a success.

Leaves from the Book of Satan (1920)

aka Leaves from Satan’s Book, Blade af Satans bog
Article 4565 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-24-2014
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Featuring Helge Nissen, Halvard Hoff, Jacob Texiere
Country: Denmark
What it is: Epic anthology

Satan is condemned to an existence of trying to turn people away from God; for each success, he has 100 years added to his sentence, but for each failure he has 1000 years taken off his sentence. We then see him in action throughout several periods of history.

Carl Theodor Dreyer was inspired to make this movie after having seen D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, and though he doesn’t match it in scope, size or length, it does seem more focused and less inclined to melodramatics. The four historical events he chooses to portray are the betrayal of Christ, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution and the (at that time) current event of the Finnish civil war. Satan appears as a character in each story, though under a human guise. Taken as individual stories, the identity of a character as Satan could have been dispensed with in three of the stories; however, in the French Revolution story, not only does the character openly admit to being Satan to another character, but a genuine supernatural event pops up in the story. Furthermore, taken as a whole, the Satan character is essential to the unity of the movie. I found the French Revolution story to be the most engaging, while the Spanish Inquisition story is also pretty good. The Christ story, though it features an excellent performance Jacob Texiere as Judas, is marred by the fact that he is practically the only character that has any dimension, and the Finnish civil war sequences is a bit confusing, though this may be partially due to the fact that from today’s perspective, it is the most obscure of the events (though it certainly wasn’t in the time and place when the movie was made). Overall, this is the weakest of the Dreyer films I’ve seen for this series, as I found both VAMPYR and DAY OF WRATH to be more intriguing.

The Lords of Magick (1989)

Article 4519 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-29-2014
Directed by David Marsh
Featuring Jarrett Parker, Mark Gauthier, Brendan Dillon Jr.
Country: USA
What it is: Possibly the worst epic fantasy ever made

In the tenth century, two brothers, both white wizards, are sent on a quest to rescue a princess from an evil sorcerer. Their journey takes them 1000 years into the future where they wield magic in modern times.

To begin with, my hat is off to director/producer/writer/editor/special effects wizard David Marsh. Why? Because he actually managed to get this off the ground, shoot it, and finish it, all on a budget that I suspect wouldn’t have made Ed Wood envious. In some ways, the sheer awfulness of the thing is beside the point; he managed to get it made without the benefit of a decent script or competent actors. It had to have taken a certain amount of passion, and I admire that. Nevertheless, despite the plenitude of campy elements, this movie makes for heavy going, and the crude sense of humor that permeates the movie really gets annoying. Incidentally, this is the only movie credit for the director and the three listed leads.